http://chud.com/nextraimages/tencentbeernight.jpgIt’s another week where two Academy hopeful hit a handful of screens. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford goes to 15, and Into the Wild hits four screens. While those interested in Eastern Promises, Across the Universe and In the Valley of Elah will have more chances. Though Eastern Promises is going as wide as it will (to over 1400 locations), Universe goes to 276, while Elah hits 300. If you’re in the boonies it should now be a drive (possibly a long drive) away, but if they don’t start growing in audience, they won’t roll out further.

SNEAK PREVIEWS

Word of mouth is a strange thing. The internet can be praised (and blamed) for now how fast word can spread, but realistically it can only have an effect on certain titles. Ain’t It Cool could run a couple dozen test screening reports on Lust, Caution and it would likely have little effect on the film-going populace that’s going to go in for it – though it might have more weight on some critics who weigh the buzz beforehand. If for some reason all the AICN previewers did was praise the film, or conversely pan it, it might create an expectations. But for Kangaroo Jack? Forget it.

The main place the internet has its weight is with a certain part of the population who is internet savvy. Granted, that’s a demo the studios readily pander to… but when it comes to the family film the geek community can only weigh in so much. And for all the benefits of the critics, the internet, pre-buzz, dissections of trailers, the trickle of on-set gossip and such, for a film like The Game Plan, the makers are going about generating some pre-release heat the old fashioned way: Well advertised sneak-previews. A Disney comedy starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, The Game Plan is the sort of film that isn’t even directed by Adam Shankman, so it can fly under the radar of hate – though if it is successful director Andy Fickman may put himself on the radar, and he’s already directed She’s the Man. Then again, the trailer only features one cute tyke and no ducks (all Duck related-Pacifier jokes copyright Jeremy Smith aka Mr. Beaks aka Melvin Moody aka Ronaldo Chaumpers).

By sneaking the film, it suggests Disney thinks they have a family winner, but one that doesn’t have the attention it needs to do the business they want. Most people love Dwayne Johnson, but his film career has been littered with losers. Five years later, his largest drawing effort is still The Scorpion King, and though he has people rooting for him to make it – and let’s face it, action cinema needs him – nothing he’s done has inspired much draw (though as I understand The Rundown is something of a cable-favorite). And even someone who likes the Rock might stay away from efforts like Walking Tall and Gridiron Gang.

If the sneaks go well, they can help a film, to a certain extent. 3:10 to Yuma sneaked and opened at #1 – though the gross is still modest – while a film like Against the Ropes sneaked, and if you remember that film.. have a cookie! (Cookie offer not valid outside of Andre Dellamorte’s kitchen. Cookies are limited to stock in hand. One cookie per customer. C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me. Andre Dellamorte is a registered trademark of Dellamorte Industries. All rights reserved. Don’t screw it). The other thing is that people have to show up. Fox thought they had a crowd pleaser with The Girl Next Door, and they might have if people went. So they sneaked it, but nobobdy went to the sneak (or the release, for that matter). I guess it’s hard to convince girlfriends to see a movie about a hot porn star chick. In a theater. As a date movie.

For Disney, that’s not as much of a problem, as they have an easily tappable network or two to help spread the word. And sneaks do tend to get some word out to the people who might be amenable to such a film. The art of a film playing with an audience is not a lost one, films like Wild Hogs attest to the power an audience can have over material that may be deemed weak by critics, but there’s no denying that Wild Hogs played to the crowd who looked to see it and enjoyed themselves.

Alas, when films like this do well, it’s often cited as something the flyover states dig, and because Hollywood doesn’t naturally make crowd-pleasing pictures, there’s often a sense of contempt for films like this. To a certain extent that’s fair, because they are generally broad slapstick-centric comedies that are done with a sense of pandering. But as I’ve said before, a paying audience isn’t necessarily being critical. And after George C. Scott won an Oscar for getting hit in the balls, everything is fair game.

YOU’VE GOT TO PUT ONE PREDICTION IN FRONT OF THE OTHER, PUT THE OTHER PREDICTION DOWN, DOWN DOWN

Well, three pieces of poop open this week, and so one will likely float to the top like an unflushable. They are: Resident Evil: Extinction, Sydney White, and Good Luck Chuck. The winner will likely be Resident Evil, just cause. Brave One should cling to the top Five, and then Easten Promises, Westen Girls in expansion could also do some business, likely barely in the top five.

That’s not exactly fair: The second Resident Evil film did quite a bit of business with an off-season release date, and so should this new one while Vegas makes for a fairly good zombie location. Dane Cook still has a fanbase, but there’s a lot more hate engendered towards him, and though Mr. Brooks showed that the man could concieveably make a career as an actor, Employee of the Month opened to Twelve Mil. But with Alba, and nothing else really going it should be scraping the heels of Extinction. Sydney White could bounce a bit higher come Saturday-Sunday, but these sort of films prove more profitable on home video.

I’m going to guess a little something like this, though I feel I’m a little high on everything (including Amyl Nitrate):

1. Resident Evil: Extinction - $19.4 Million
2. Good Luck Chuck - $18.2 Million
3. Sydney White - $9.2 Million
4. The Brave One - $8.4 Million
5. Eastern Promises – – $6.7 Million

See you… uh, what’s that day after Saturday? Church Day? That’s it. I’ll see you on Churchleday.